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Ducks Aweigh!

Last month, for my birthday, I took a little trip to Battleship Cove to pay my respects so history. It was a hell of a trip, and I intended to take a ton of photographs. I even put an 8GB card in my camera so I wouldn't run out of memory.

That's when I found out that my camera doesn't play nice with High Capacity SD cards. It took three photos, then locked up. Oh, well.

But I had a hell of a time. I think I walked about seven decks of Big Mamie, the USS Massachusetts, 46,000 tons of steel, from the midpoint of the superstructure down to the bowels of the ship. And I also got to explore the destroyer USS Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., the submarine USS Lionfish, and the Hiddensee -- a Soviet-built missile corvette that we acquired from Germany after East and West Germany reunited.

One thing that really impressed me was the paradox of warships -- as big as they are on the outside, they're tiny on the inside. The doorsills were anywhere from about eight inches to two feet high, the passageways barely wide enough for two people to pass, the ceilings as low as six feet, and the ladders almost vertical.

And it was even tighter on the submarine.

There is also a palpable sense of history on these ships, especially the Massachusetts. She was the first American battleships to fire her main guns in anger, off the coast of Africa, and the last, off the coast of Japan. She earned awards for participating in 11 battles, helped sink the French battleship Jean Bart, and fought in both the Atlantic and Pacific.

And in her four years of service, she never lost a single crewman.

I am not a small person, but I have never felt so small as I did standing by the aft main turret of the Massachusetts. They have one of the shells for her main guns on deck. It's about four feet tall, 16" in diameter, and weighs 2,700 pounds.

The gun that fires that shell has a 60-foot-long barrel, and could toss that shell about 20 miles with frightening accuracy.

Mamie carries nine of those guns, and they could fire about twice a minute.

That's about the equivalent of 18 new Honda Civics full of high explosives being launched every minute.

But it's not just the numbers or factoids. It's the history, and the human element.

The Massachusetts was a floating city. She carried about 2,200 men to war, and was their home for months on end. Their entire world was the ship, a floating fortress barely two football fields long and barely 100 feet wide at its widest. Those men slept in bunks stacked three and four high, ate at tables that folded up against walls, used tiny bathrooms that make broom closets look spacious.

And she kept every single one of them safe and sound.

In the years just before and during World War II, the United States built ten fast battleships -- two North Carolinas, four South Dakotas, and four Iowas. Seven of them are still around -- the North Carolina, the Alabama, the Massachusetts, the Iowa, the Wisconsin, the New Jersey, and the Missouri. (Also the USS Texas, a veteran of both World Wars.) Most of them are museums now.

For anyone with a sense of history, it is almost mandatory to make a pilgrimage to these mighty, storied, glorious vessels. To walk their decks, to look and touch and smell these glimpses into history. It is an experience that can not be properly captured in mere words.

As I said, I didn't get any good pictures of the trip. But I did buy some souvenirs, and once I figured out why my camera crapped out on me when I was counting on it, I took some. Here's one that I think folks will appreciate.



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Comments (8)

I walked the quarterdeck of... (Below threshold)

I walked the quarterdeck of the USS Missouri when she was mothballed in the Bremerton Navy Yard across the Puget Sound from Seattle, in 1973. Tourists were not allowed below the weather deck, due to some of the equipment that was still top secret. She had just been decomissioned after her last deployment to Vietnam. To stand on the very spot where the Japanese signed the surrender document ending WW2, was a thrill in itself. Yes I quite agree those 16" guns were an awesome sight.

Always good to see what it ... (Below threshold)

Always good to see what it was like to be 18 and in harms way.

We had a chance to tour the... (Below threshold)

We had a chance to tour the Alabama years ago. The thickness of the armor protecting the bridge has to be seen to be believed. Someday I would love to see the Texas, the only dreadnought class battleship still in existence. You wonder about the caliber of politicians in this country, but when you remember that they would not save the Enterprise, you begin to realize just how short sighted they are.

We used to go on overnights... (Below threshold)

We used to go on overnights to Battleship Cove in the Boy Scouts. You got to sleep in the crew quarters and everything. And, at least at the time, security was provided by the Marines and nothing gets a boy in line quicker than "Hey, Scout! Don't run!" from a Marine.

I remember visiting the Mas... (Below threshold)

I remember visiting the Massachusetts when I was small enough to get into places you weren't supposed to go. Now that was fun. I also got a chance to visit the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70). Absolutely amazing ship. If you ever get a chance to go aboard a carrier you need to jump at it.

This is a good time to get ... (Below threshold)

This is a good time to get a plug in for our submarine memorials. There are about 25 memorials around the country. Each is trying to preserve our rich history and accomplishments. The war in the Pacific was all but won because of the steel ships and iron men that rode these boats. Within a couple of months Japan would have surrendered without the Bomb! 52 submarines and over 4,000 men were lost during WWII. I encourage everyone to visit this site: http://www.submarinemuseums.org/ and then visit one of the many submarines that we have on display. Many - well most - are in need of help.

Yes I was one of those that served on these old boats. USS Picuda SS-382. You can visit the Picuda's sister ship the USS Pampanito SS-383 in San Francisco at Fisherman's Wharf.

I visited the Mighty Mo in ... (Below threshold)

I visited the Mighty Mo in Pearl a couple of years ago. I'd like to visit the Texas (in the Houston ship channel, I think) as it's an older BB.

When I was in the Navy, for... (Below threshold)

When I was in the Navy, for a time I was stationed at NISMF (Naval Inactive Ships Maintenance Facility) in Bremerton, Washlington. We decommissioned and anchored the ships. I had MANY opportunities to tour all the WWII ships, the battelships and aircraft carriers were my favorites. They are huge. I would find some glass slides of enemy planes they used in the flight area, etc. One time I was the only sailor on a decommissioned aircraft carrier while the tugs pulled her in. Spooky but great.

I was also much involved (chipping paint) on the USS Missouri as we readied her for tourisets. For those that do not know, the USS Missouri is the battleship that the Japanese surrendered on.

Thanks JT. You brought back great memories. ww






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